Disaster Preparedness and Response Planning in Barnstable County, Cape Cod

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 4/29/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Cape Cod Commission developed disaster preparedness materials to assist local officials and residents in preparing for natural coastal hazard risks, including climate change. In addition, the Commission incorporated climate change considerations into the siting and design of coastal infrastructure. The primary climate impacts that will affect Cape Cod’s coastlines include flooding, sea level rise, erosion, coastal storms, and changes in precipitation.


Climate change impacts of concern to Cape Cod include sea level rise, flooding, changes in water temperatures, and range shifts of important economic fishery resources like cod and lobster. The majority of the Cape Cod Commission’s activities are focused on hazard planning and land use planning to protect infrastructure and coastal communities. The Commission developed Barnstable County’s original hazard mitigation plan in 2004 along with other local and regional agencies.


The Commission requires new and retrofitted infrastructure to incorporate sea level rise scenarios in the design process under the Cape Cod Regional Policy Plan. The plan acknowledges that projected sea level rise will threaten coastal infrastructure, habitats, and communities, and that climate-informed coastal planning requires spatial considerations. For example, the plan requires that new development or redevelopment not impede the landward migration of coastal habitats (e.g., beaches, dunes, salt marshes) as sea levels rise. It also requires that new buildings be elevated above Base Flood Elevation, and that setbacks from coastal banks are calculated at least 70 times the average annual erosion rate to protect residential coastal structures.

The Cape Cod Commission coordinates and helps local communities develop hazard mitigation plans. The Natural Hazards Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan (PDM) for Barnstable County was created in 2004 with funding support and approval of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the 2010 Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan (MHM) for Barnstable County was developed to update the 2004 plan. The MHM addresses the county’s vulnerability to the following hazards: flooding, wind, snow and ice, drought, earthquakes, hurricanes, and climate change impacts, including sea level rise, shoreline erosion, increased coastal storms, and increased precipitation. The goal of the PDM and MHM plans are the same: “to reduce the loss of or damage to life, property, infrastructure, and natural, cultural, and economic resources from natural disasters.” In order to achieve this goal, both the original and updated plan outlines the following objectives:

  • increase coordination of planning;
  • assist with local planning preparation;
  • increase outreach and education efforts for local residents and visitors on hazards and climate change risks;
  • implement risk assessment in planning;
  • protect infrastructure and emergency facilities;
  • protect economic viability of coastal businesses;
  • include climate adaptation concerns in planning; and
  • increase and build local capacity to prepare for and deal with coastal hazards, including developing adaptation plans.

By assisting local towns in developing local MHMs, the Commission can help towns qualify for FEMA pre- and post-disaster planning.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The Cape Cod Commission developed hazard plans and the Cape Cod Emergency Preparedness Handbook to help local communities prepare for and respond to natural hazard risks, including those related to climate change. The Commission also provided technical assistance to eight Cape Cod communities in developing local multi-hazard mitigation plans: Bourne, Harwich, Mashpee, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Wellfleet, and Yarmouth. Barnstable County’s Regional Emergency Planning Committee has created a Hazard Preparedness page on their website, which provides resources for different hazards including hurricanes, floods, winter storms, and extreme heat events.

The Cape Cod Commission has since expanded its climate adaptation work to include stakeholder engagement outreach on coastal vulnerabilities, a socioeconomic analysis of coastal ecosystem services (e.g., property values), and the development of the Cape Cod Coastal Planner, which helps users identify hazards of concern and available adaptation options. In addition, the Commission released the Cape Cod Climate Action Plan in July 2021, which establishes mitigation and adaptation goals for the region.

Cape Cod Climate Action Plan


Gregg, R. M. (2021). Disaster Preparedness and Response Planning in Barnstable County, Cape Cod [Case study on a project of the Cape Cod Commission]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated August 2021)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

The Water Resources staff provides technical expertise in water-related matters for the Commission, its staff, and the 15 Cape Cod towns. This includes regulatory reviews, planning projects, and technical projects for towns and the region. Staff members also coordinate water resource activities with federal, state, regional, and local agencies. The activities support the region-wide goal for Cape Cod's water, which is articulated in the Regional Policy Plan:

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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